The Lion City Sailors picked up exactly where they left off, thumping Tanjong Pagar United 7-0 at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday (13 August) for their second big-margin win – following the 10-1 demolition of Young Lions – in the first two games under the charge of interim Head Coach Luka Lalić.
Up by two goals at the break, the defending Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions ran riot in the second half and plundered another five goals in a free-flowing display. The result meant the Sailors restored their three-point lead over nearest challengers Albirex Niigata (S) at the summit of the SPL standings, holding a significant advantage in the goal difference count (10) over the White Swans.
While satisfied with how his team has applied what was practised over the past week and turned in a fluent display of football, Luka is not getting carried away.
“There were a lot of good things for sure. We spent the week building a new way of how we want to play and I’m happy that they applied some of the principles tonight, so credit goes to the players for that,” said the 35-year-old.
“But not everything went according to plan and we still have a lot of things to build on. I’ve worked in football long enough to know that it’s never all sunshine and rainbows; I stand firmly with both feet on the ground and I’m not fooled by the team scoring 17 goals in two games.”
Luka switched it up for this one, with five changes from the lineup that started in the Young Lions win, as the likes of captain Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman and goalkeeper Hassan Sunny all returned to the first eleven.
The reshuffled team started brightly with Gabriel Quak and Saifullah Akbar rocking the woodwork before the Sailors finally opened the scoring in the 10th minute. After a delightful exchange with Diego Lopes, Maxime Lestienne showed impeccable technique to cushion a side-foot volley past Fashah Iskandar for his ninth league goal.
Saifullah, in particular, was excelling in an unfamiliar left-back role in place of the suspended Nur Adam Abdullah and coped well with the threat of Aqhari Abdullah down his flank.
Meanwhile on his third straight start, Adam Swandi was dictating the tempo and pulling all the strings in the middle of the park alongside Shahdan – thus it was no surprise he began the move that led to the second goal a minute into first-half injury time. The 26-year-old released Kim Shin-wook, who in turn put Hafiz Nor through to slip the ball beyond the onrushing Fashah.
The Sailors kept up the same white-hot intensity after the break, with “Wookie” picking up his second assist of the match as he teed up Gabriel for a trademark daisy-cutter in the 53rd minute. The former South Korean international got on the scoresheet himself just five minutes later, hooking the rebound in off the bar after his initial header off Maxime’s cross was kept out at point-blank range by Fashah for his 17th goal of the season.
The scoreboard read 4-0 and there was more to come from the Sailors as Luka rang the changes to freshen things up.
Just minutes after coming on, Faris Ramli made his mark, earning a penalty after he was sent sprawling by Fashah while challenging for a header. Diego slammed home the resulting spot-kick on 69 minutes to make it 5-0 on the night.
Faris then recovered well from the collision to whip in an inch-perfect cross for Song to convert the Sailors’ sixth goal five minutes later, before the convincing win was rounded off by Man-of-the-Match Diego – who netted his second of the night from the edge of the area.
Bill Mamadou – another substitute – also did his part with a superb intervention to deny Khairul Nizam from going clean through, helping Hassan to keep his seventh clean sheet of the season.
Despite a 7-0 win over the SPL’s third-placed side and a second straight victory in charge, Luka was adamant that there should be no letting up from the title-chasing Sailors.
“I always look at things from a negative standpoint first – the only thing I’m focusing on is how we can improve further. We’re now starting to create a style of play that people can recognise and we’re going to keep building on that till the end of the season.
“For me, the number one thing is the intensity of play – and that requires good fitness levels. We’ll keep working on that while being careful with the players’ conditions so that we can last the distance.”